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Use Content Marketing to Sell Ads

Posted on Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 12:03 AM

Rethinking ad sales strategy in a new era.

By William Dunkerley

How many of you are using content marketing to sell ads? By "content marketing" I'm referring to the process of creating free content that will be of value to your target advertisers and making it available online. If you're not already doing this, or not already in the planning phase, you are behind the curve. You probably have a lot of company there. That's because, for many publishers, sales methodologies have not kept up with modern trends in how people buy things -- including ad space.

If you'd asked me some years ago if producing giveaway content was a priority for boosting ad sales, I would have answered in the negative. In the past, the best course was to develop a highly trained sales team and send those salespeople out to aggressively contact prospects and existing advertisers.

Great Recession Tactics

The Great Recession caused many publishers to push that approach to new limits in search of increasingly elusive ad dollars. For many publishers during those times, the base number of advertisers shrank, either a result of drastically reduced ad budgets or, in some cases, even bankruptcies.

In response, publishers focused more intensely on the advertisers who were still spending. That involved trying to up-sell space and frequency, pushing inserts and premium positions. For many, this brought in more instant cash. But there was a downside. Many advertisers were pushed to spend beyond the point of diminishing returns. Overall, their advertising became less effective per dollar spent.

Some advertisers have already recognized that fact. Some haven't put the picture together yet. But in either case, squeezing the big spenders is a strategy that will become self-limiting at some point.

Why the Old Methods Don't Work

On top of that, other factors conspire to make it unwise to continue relying so heavily upon old-style ad sales practices:

--It's more difficult to do effective telephone prospecting. The way decision makers screen out unwelcome sales calls has changed. A sales rep used to be confronted with a secretary or assistant who would attempt to screen the call. But there are effective techniques for "penetrating the screen" and getting to talk with the decision maker. Now, however, reps are more often being screened by caller ID and voicemail. That experience can be like hitting a brick wall.

--Many space buyers are now even more resistant to talking to reps. They tend to gather information on the Internet about where to advertise. Only after that process is complete will the buyer be receptive to a conversation with a rep.

--There is a trend toward ad buys being decided by a committee (or at least more than one person). The old process of trying to locate a sole decision maker is less relevant now. With more people involved in the decision-making, the length of time needed to reach conclusions becomes greater.

The traditional way of ad sales was a matter of identifying and hitting a target. The process today is more a process of setting out bait.

That's where the concept of content marketing can be very helpful.

So What Is Content Marketing?

It's true that almost every publisher already has some kind of ad sales content available online. But more often than not, that turns out to be an online version of the media kit, a device invented to serve as an adjunct to a sales presentation. It's something to use as show-and-tell in an in-person presentation and to leave behind afterwards. For telephone sales, it's something to send out after an initial contact. But a media kit is not a standalone device. It's not what is meant by the term "content marketing."

The Content Marketing Institute defines it this way: "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action."

The Institute pulls no punches when it goes on to remark, "That's the difference between content marketing and the other informational garbage you get from companies trying to sell you 'stuff.' Companies send us information all the time -- it's just that most of the time it's not very relevant or valuable (can you say spam?). That's what makes content marketing so intriguing in today's environment of thousands of marketing messages per person per day. Good content marketing makes a person stop, read, think, and behave differently."

In a future issue, we'll discuss various ways you can implement effective content marketing and use it to boost your advertising sales.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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